Lehigh’s Transportation Services reintroduced their van system this semester, which will supplement the Packer Express and Campus Connector buses.
The traditional bus system dedicated to transporting students across each of Lehigh’s three campuses, the Campus Connector, has typically relied on standard, high-capacity buses to make its rounds.
Many students, however, were surprised to be picked up by a Lehigh-issued van at the start of this school year.
Sharon Field, director of transportation and parking services for the Transportation Office, oversees and manages the everyday operations of Lehigh’s bus — and now van — system. Field said she is also involved in soliciting feedback from faculty and students who regularly take the Campus Connector to and from Mountaintop Campus.
She said Transportation Services added two 15-passenger vans to their bus system in response to concerns over the low frequency of Campus Connector buses transporting people to and from Mountaintop.
The vans now run Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ciara Gallagher, ‘24, said she is pleased with the efficiency of the Campus Connector system this semester.
“Having classes on Mountaintop used to be a whole process that I dreaded,” Gallagher said. “Now I don’t have to stress as much about missing the bus and walking into class so late.”
Field said increasing transit frequency has been the Transportation Office’s most recent and long-awaited effort to improve student’s experiences.
As the new van system has only recently been put into operation, students are still adjusting to the change and familiarizing themselves with the differences between bus and van transportation.
Marti Colasurdo, ‘25, has ridden the Campus Connector van multiple times since the beginning of the school year. She said one issue with the new van system is limited space.
“It’s weird to get into a van and it doesn’t fit all of the passengers, but I think the seats are nice,” Colasurdo said. “It’s just an odd switch from the bus that I’m used to.”
Though not her preferred mode of transportation, Colasurdo said the Campus Connector van does its job well and delivers on frequency of transport.
One of the most significant alterations that has been made with Lehigh’s transportation system occurred during the pandemic, when Field said there was an evident change in transportation demand and safety guidelines.
“We operated one bus which was ‘on demand’ and transported students to local grocery stores and to off-campus redi-care facilities for (COVID-19) testing,” Field said. “When school resumed, we operated four Campus Connector buses, one Packer Express bus, an evening and weekend ‘on demand’ service and AccessLU service.”
While this combination of services has stopped as of spring 2021, the Transportation Office has continued to experience a lack of available drivers: another impact of COVID-19 circumstances.
Field said two full-time driver positions have remained vacant since spring 2021 and a “pool” of part-time drivers has diminished. She said this poses more challenges to operating the transit system.
As a result of the driver shortage, staff members of the Transportation Office have started getting behind the wheel and operating the vans.
Field said both she and her colleagues have stepped in as additional drivers during busy days, transporting students to and from Mountaintop Campus in an attempt to improve efficiency.
Field said the Transportation Office is looking for new issues and feedback so they may make additional improvements. The Mountaintop Field Guide is a resource where students, staff and faculty can locate a feedback form addressing Mountaintop Campus transportation concerns.
“We hope to add to this guide throughout the semester,” Field said. “While we have made some improvements, we will continue to evaluate student, staff and faculty needs and adjust accordingly, wherever possible.”